"If God is omniscient, why pray?" This question assumes two things:
- That prayer is telling God things.
- That omniscience relates to determinism. That knowing a future outcome is determining the outcome.
Talking to GodPrayer isn’t just telling God things, letting him know what you think or feel. It’s not just giving Him information. It’s not just saying things He already knows. It’s a physical act, born out of these thoughts and feelings. A manifestation of our hearts and minds.
Prayer is an act of obedience. God commands his followers to pray to him. Again, this is to show that prayer is not just telling God something He doesn’t already know.
Friends talk to each other not just to share information, but the act of conversing builds the friendship bonds stronger. Most of what is said is not important, and it isn’t even consciously stored as information to be retrieved, it is rather remembered in the emotion centers of our brain. It provides attraction, joy, and other positive emotions.
But there’s even more to it than that. Asking why we pray if God is all-knowing is similar to asking these other questions:
If I know what an almond tastes like, why eat it?Just because I know what an almond tastes like, it doesn’t mean there isn’t any reason to eat it. There are other reasons why I would eat an almond. It provided nutrition to my body. It changes my biology.
If I know what a song sounds like, why listen to it?Just because I know what a song sounds like, it doesn’t mean I have no reason to listen to the song. Mainly it’s because listening to the song pleases me. I appreciate the song.
If you know what I want, why do I ask for it?There is something different between something that in internal, a desire, and something that is external, a request.
If you know I’m thankful, why do I say “thank you?”Gratitude is more than just a feeling, it is an action.
If my wife knows I love her, why do I say it?Love is more than just a feeling, it is more than just a thought.
Omniscience and free willOmniscience and free will are non-contradictory. To argue that knowing the future means you control the future is begging the point. Greg Boyd argues that while God knows all, he has also created man as independent agents, providing them with the ability to alter creation of their own volition. His explanation says that God’s omniscience means he knows what was and what will be through infinite possibilities, not that our linear space-time dimensions are set in stone, so to speak.
How does free will relate to prayer?Knowing the hearts and minds of man does not mean God controls the decisions of man. Prayer is a physical act, which accompanies the internal thoughts and desires. What one imagines in one’s own head does not alter time or space without it being spoken and acted upon.
The scriptures say prayer is an act, and it is one of humility. If someone wrongs another person, being sorry in their heart isn’t the same as the humble act of apologizing, even if the wronged party knows of the other’s feelings.
Boyd argues that “God set up things up in the beginning such that his influence in the world is increased when his human partners align their will with his will through prayer.” Which is one thing Jesus said we should pray for; that His will would be done “on earth as it is in Heaven.” It is because there are other free agents in our world at play other than God (including spiritual entities) Boyd says, “Prayer can make a difference only if things genuinely hang in the balance.”